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Authors: Richard Holmes

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Hitler's Armaments Minister

[Hitler's Reichsminister] Bormann was not an obstruction to my work in the first time when I was Minister, he was the reverse; he supported me because as it's well known Bormann was trying to diminish the influence of the strongest one and I diminished in this time the influence of Goring. Goring was, more or less by my activity, no more the head of the four-year plan and of course Bormann liked it. But then when Bormann found out that now 1 am the strong man, he of course tried to do the same thing to me. There was no unanimous handling of the things, everybody of the big stars of Hitler's government were doing things of their own. It would have been better if the leading men would have been brought together now and then to discuss problems. It didn't happen. Hitler was preferring to have these discussion with every single man in leading positions and then to make his decisions, and often it was the man who was there first who got the decision and the other men who were late had to see how to get along with this decision. As long as I was on very good terms with Hitler, as was the case to the end of 1943, I was always mostly the first one to come to Hitler and get my orders and so the others had to see how to get along with them. But afterwards it was getting more and more difficult because I was no longer his favourite.


The Germans had some very high-class scientists indeed, and excellent engineers, but they didn't achieve the results they ought to have done. Firstly, I think, because they were mucked around and the Nazis kept changing the priorities, and secondly and most important I don't believe they were ever allowed to take any interest in the operational side, as opposed to what happened to us, where the scientists were made to feel full members of the operational team. I believe this, more than the question of weapons and devices, was the reason why the Germans fell so far astern in technological matters.


Hitler was more and more convinced that he doesn't need any more advice of anybody and he made the decisions by himself without listening to
experts. He didn't even come any more to headquarters: he didn't like to see them any more, and the decisions were made which were preventing the highest output possible and we had so many types of tanks that the supply of spare parts was almost an impossible question. We had so many parts, so many different ammunitions for so many different guns, that the logistic problem was no more possible to solve.


There were a number of reports from the Academy of Science about an
atom bomb but it was the British report that really made everybody feel that after all it probably could be done. Of course we way underestimated the time and the money that would be required. But the first real conviction that the job could be done came from the British report.


I was enthused by the
V-1 rocket because it was such a wonderful technical device, and I also thought it will be a strong weapon but was disappointed when I heard that the warhead of the missiles only carried a very small load of explosives, and that the cost of such a missile compared with what it's bringing as an explosion to the enemy is not worth the effort. We could do, with the same material and the same workmen, we could do better. Hitler was dreaming of attack of a few thousand missiles at once and he said there should be stocked and then with one big blow he will start his offensive. And it turned out that in the end it started very slow, they were just firstly a few and the next day there was another few and then there were five or six or ten every day and not more, because by then the war was already in a stage that Hitler ordered everything into immediate action.


The project that involved the greatest technical difficulties? You would have to put the atomic bomb as one of the greatest. But the next I'd put the
proximity fuse and after that
radar, and particularly centimetric radar. Of course you people are ahead of us on radar but when we got going we produced the short-wave radar, which was an enormous advance, and the Germans never got it. Proximity fuses, when they first presented that to me, it came up on appeal because some of my people had turned it down as impossible. I talked to four fellas and finally said to them, 'I think it's impossible on the face of it but I will not stop if you four guys think it can be done, go ahead, waste your time, beat your brains out trying to do it.' But think of what they proposed to do – to take a radio set as big as a baking powder can, put it in a shell, fire it off so that they press down its support with the force of a ton, it would contain thermionic tubes, little glass tubes with filaments in them and they'd expect them to be in operating condition after it had gone out of the gun. It was out of this world, yet they did it, and I think it was the greatest technical accomplishment.


Son of Minister of Production Lord Beaverbrook

My father was a master of
propaganda. There was the pots and pans drive where everyone was asked to give up pots and pans and railings, and ex-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin didn't give up his gates but most other people gave up everything they could in the way of metal. We pilots knew that you couldn't make aircraft out of pots and pans but it was good stuff, it brought the people to realise that the situation was desperate. And I believe the response to the pots and pans drive was tremendous. They had piles and piles of pots and pans, not knowing what to do with them, but he, as I say, he was a great propagandist and enthused them. They didn't like him much, the air marshals didn't like him and I don't think the manufacturers liked him for a start. But he did enthuse them, he worked hard and when I say hard I mean hard. He wouldn't have any weekends; any chairman of an aircraft company who was going to play tennis he'd get him off the tennis court at once and bring him in. He had an uncanny knack of knowing when people in the aircraft industry were taking time off. He said the pilots have no time off, the pilots flew all weekends, and they were tired, and they flew at Christmas and they flew at Easter and New Year, and therefore he couldn't see why anyone else should do it.


Minister of Production 1942–45

There had only been one Minister of Production before, who was Max Beaverbrook. Otherwise the Ministry of Supply dealt almost entirely with Army matters, the Ministry of Aircraft Production with the Air Force and the Admiralty with its own thing. The two new ministries, of Supply and Aircraft Production, in neither department that I can remember had there been a minister who had been on the battlefield. And this is one of the central difficulties of war production: you've got to have equipment which industry can produce and which is as near the tactical requirement of the Air Force or the Army as you can get.


Trade-union official and Labour MP

I don't hold any particular brief for the late Lord Beaverbrook. I knew him well, knew him very well indeed, often had conversations with him, often was associated with him over the Second Front before he became a member of the government. But I would say this in Beaverbrook's favour – if he had not been made Minister of Aircraft Production it would have been disastrous. Of course he upset things, he went in and turned the whole thing upside down, disturbed people, incensed people, did all the things he shouldn't have done according to the critics – but without Beaverbrook it's doubtful if we could have got through.


Deputy Head of the US Office of Price Administration

In the late Thirties part of the CIO was under left-wing leadership and in the days of the Nazi pact with Russia there was foot-dragging on the part of some of the union leaders.
I think this could easily be exaggerated but there were strikes and there was a certain lack of enthusiasm on the far left. But from 22nd June 1941 the left-wing unions became very enthusiastic and started talking about no-strike pledges and, generally speaking, the big
production unions got their back into the war pretty strong. Walter Reuther of the United Automobile Workers was, though very young, a very strong militant figure in seeking to develop production against the Nazis. So I wouldn't put the unions on a par with the businessmen. The businessmen were a drag but so were the unions, certainly after the attack on the Soviet Union – and I'm not saying this was true of all the unions, just a few under left-wing leadership – but from that time on they were a pretty affirmative force.


Of course a man who is producing the arms is very powerful man in every country who is leading the war. I was not as powerful as I would have liked to be because in my hands were only the armaments production for the armies, but not those for the Navy and for the Air Force and not the general war production. This was leading to some failures in production because of course the whole production must be put together. I tried first in vain to be the boss of the whole thing, and succeeded very slowly in the length of time, the latest thing was in May 1944 when I got the production of the Air Force. It's astounding for everybody who didn't live in this system to hear that it was divided in many districts, in thirty-two districts, and if the head of every district was a gauleiter he was a strong political man and had the power, the absolute power, in his district. He was only subordinate to Hitler himself, so when my orders didn't please one of the gauleiters possibly they weren't carried out.


Member of the US War Production Board

One thing we learned, and this was a surprise to most of us, we all thought the Nazis were very good organisers of the economy. After the war, when we went on our bombing surveys and got all the records, it turned out that they didn't even know what the gross national product was. They were never even on a two-shift basis in the factories. The democracies of the world, once they set their mind to it – and I am thinking primarily of the UK and the United States – we did a better job of mobilisation than ever the totalitarian states did. I think they were done in by


Industrialists who were advising me told me at the very beginning of my office in 1942 that the great difference between Great Britain and Germany was that in Great Britain the
women are mobilised to a very high degree. They gave me the percentage of women working in Germany in this war and they gave me comparison to the women working in Germany in the First World War, and it was quite obvious that women were almost not used for war production. So I tried to get the women in war-production machinery but it was opposed by Sauckel, who was in charge of all the labour – he was in some way at the same position as Bevin [Labour Minister Ernest Bevin] in England.
Sauckel denied it and the thing came to Goring and Goring flatly denied it too, then it came to the decision of Hitler and Hitler also said no, the women must be preserved, they had other tasks, they are for family, they have to rear their children and it would spoil their health and their morale if they are working in the factories. I think it was a general line of the whole system, it started with the thatched roof, which was propagated everywhere, it started with fostering the old customs and so on and so on. There was a long list of things which didn't match the technical age, which were on the contrary going more to the past, and those things were, really made it impossible to push through armaments production as I wanted to do it.


The one great thing we had, the one great thing that Britain had, and very little point has ever been made of this, was that the tables of the social accounts, which were new in those days, for business and others, allowed us to see exactly what we were investing in civilian goods, capital goods, what we were putting into war production – and the Germans had no such figures. And those of us who were concerned, who saw something of the German economy towards the end of the war, were awestruck by our greater knowledge of what we were doing.


Looking back of course I see that is, was, one of the big mistakes of our warfare to use foreign labourers. But not only now, also in the time when the things were decided, my leading industrialists and me we had the opinion that the rule that production can be done is with German forces, mainly with the women. But Hitler denying it, we were, I was too, compelled to ask Sauckel for deported labour. In the first time there were not so many arguments because I was of the opinion too that I need the workmen and that even if they are coming against their own will, it's a necessity to me, so I supported Sauckel and in the Nuremberg trial when I was in the dock I made a statement saying again what I did.
At first Sauckel was quite successful and brought to Germany hundred thousands of foreign labourers. But then he got in trouble because the people who were drafted in France, for instance, they didn't want to go any more to Germany, or more they didn't want to go in the beginning, but now they resisted really with some risks, went away and were joining the Maquis, the French Resistance. Generals who were in charge in France at this time were saying that Sauckel is more or less supporting the French Resistance with his systems. So we found out, together with the Production Minister of the French government, that it would be much better to occupy those French workmen in the French production and to charge them with consumer-goods production, while I am in Germany changing consumer-goods production into armaments production. We just started with this, with difficulties because Sauckel was opposing me and had the help of Bormann, but we got along.

BOOK: The World at War
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